All throughout the New Testament, Christian baptism is clearly identified for us. Baptism is clearly a ceremony where, simply, someone is immersed in water, and it has a spiritual significance of great importance. Baptism does not impute salvation nor does the act of baptism forgive sins. Baptism is a public, outward expression of an inward and spiritual reality. Baptism also does not give the holy spirit. Tongues is not a sign of salvation or the baptism of the spirit. (But that’s for another time.)
Oddly enough, we don’t hear many sermons in church today on this subject. Whether because pastors feel the matter of baptism is sort of elementary or because they think the members of their church know enough, I don’t know. I do know that Baptism is important enough that it is included in the commission.
Matt 28:19 – “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
Many great Christian conferences around today that all do great work and although there may be hundreds of people professing faith in Christ for the first time at these events, there is usually no follow up in baptism. And yet, on the day of Pentecost, 3,000 people believed, and 3,000 people were baptized. Peter gave this commandment:
Acts 2:38a – Peter said to them, “Repent and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ”
So the church is commanded to baptize. That much is clear.
When Jews would baptize a gentile into their community, thus making that individual a proselyte, there immediately was a ceremony. Their ceremony was a bit different than ours today however. When a gentile would come into belief of the one true God; the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they then entered a three part process. The Jews had developed a ceremony by which a Proselyte would enter into privilege in the covenant community. This process involved, circumcision (child or adult), water baptism by immersion (even Catholics dunked folks until the dark ages) and animal Sacrifice. They were to bring an animal to be slaughtered. The slaughtering of the animal was to remind that gentile that the forgiveness of his/her sin came at a price.
Here was the death of a substitute animal to picture the fact that there would have to be a substitute to die for their sins. Are you getting the symbolic picture here? The symbol of a substitutionary death, to gentiles who came believing, was depicting the ultimate lamb Who would come and truly abolish the dominion of sin.
Now that we know the history, skip ahead to John The Baptist! John comes into the Jewish community, preaching repentance and baptism. That alone isn’t shocking. The Jews were more than familiar with baptism. They had gone through the ceremony themselves and they were used to seeing people baptized. What was devastating, however, was that John the Baptist was telling Jews that they ALSO needed to be baptized! John was literally telling the Jews; God’s covenant people, that they were no better than the gentiles. John was telling them, “YOU’RE WITHOUT HOPE IN THIS WORLD! YOU ARE WITHOUT GOD!”
Them’s Fightin werds.
If you know nothing about the O.T. Jews, you have to know this for everything to make sense. The Jewish people had a deep seeded racial animosity against gentiles. When they would come back from a gentile country into Israel, before crossing the border, they would stop and shake the dust off their cloak so they didn’t take any gentile dirt into their land. The Jewish and Gentile relationship was a lot like Sam I am and the Dr. Suess guy who wouldn’t try green eggs and ham.
They would not, could not defile with a gentile. They wouldn’t eat with them or even visit them in their homes because gentiles were “unclean.” So John telling them, “you are no better than the gentiles,” was HUGE. Everyone who repents and places their faith in Christ is to follow in believer’s baptism.
As the story goes, John The Baptist is preaching and baptizing people like normal when one day, something amazing happens…Jesus walks in. As you should know, Jesus asks John to baptize Him and John tries to refuse. John tells Jesus that it is He that should be baptizing John, not the other way around. Jesus is perfect, spotless, without blemish, holy, son of God, who need not be baptized. Look what Jesus tells him…astounding…
Matthew 3:15 – But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.”
To fulfill all righteousness. That’s it. Think about if Christ hadn’t been baptized. We would definitely see the argument today of, “Well Jesus Himself was never baptized, why should I?” Furthermore, it goes to show us how important obedience is to God; that His own sinless Son would follow through with baptism, merely out of obedience, to fulfill all righteousness.
Therefore, when an unbeliever comes and sees a baptismal service, they’re literally seeing an object lesson of the spiritual dynamics of one reckoning themselves dead unto sin, being buried with Christ in baptism, and arising from the water, to new life in Christ. Baptism is a symbolic ceremony of upmost importance.
If you have believed and have never been baptized, you now have a mission this Sunday.